UNORTHODOX BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOKS NO 7: AUGUST 2002 – SEPT 2002

 

14th August 2002: Ben Rhydding gravel pits and Burley in Wharfedale (Sun Lane Nature Reserve)

 A warm day, perhaps too warm: Followed the trail from Ben Rhydding finally coming to a stop for well over an hour at "the delve". Here I probably saw one and maybe two Purple Hairstreaks. Both were over half way down the oak trees. The young oaks were infected with 'the fungus' like quite a few of the other oaks I had passed. Visited the oaks in the area called the Paddock at Sun Lane, the place where we had first seen the Purple Hairstreaks. However I was out of luck this time in spite of watching for some twenty minutes. I may have seen one in Catton Wood. I crossed the field to the large oak but again was out of luck. Finally, I spent around forty minutes staring at the oaks at the entrance to Sun Lane but again I was completely out of luck. But at the end of the day I had established that Purple Hairstreaks are few and far between in Wharfedale. So it was not entirely a waste of time.

 

16th August 2002: Ilkley Moor, West Yorks

A very warm day. Crossed Ilkley Moor and counted 94 Northern Eggar caterpillars. The majority were sunning themselves some on the smooth paving others on the millstone grit. Still others were lying on the white sand. There were even a couple on the dry stone wall and I even found one under a stone. There appeared to be a particular cluster around a peat bog. One was even sunning itself on a mound of desiccated hair moss. It may explain why the Northern Eggars were particularly attracted to the peat bog on Baildon Moor and even stranger that they were flying on the second year of the caterpillars life cycle. Could it be they are reaching maturity in one year? Needs further investigation. I did not find any caterpillars on the slopes down to Ilkley even though the actual peat bogs are far more abundant on this side of the moor. Maybe they are highly selective in their choice of peat bog.

 

23rd August 2002: Ranmore Common, Surrey

A hot almost windless day though rather overcast ad perfect for photographing blues. I accomplished my mission finding there were proportionally more blue female Common Blues as in the north of England. However, they are somewhat different, smaller generally and they have a tendency to resemble the Chalk Hill Blue. As the blue creeps across the top wings a dark margin is left resembling the Chalk Hill Blue. Also the lower wings have a tendency to take on pale blue almost metallic sheen of the male Chalk Hill. It is as if the Common Blue is modelling itself on the Chalk Hill. There maybe an explanation for this. Both the Adonis and Common Blue vary in size quite considerably. but the Chalk Hill has a greater morphological constancy. There were far more Silver Spotted Skippers than I have ever seen before. They were to be seen nectaring on the scabious and dwarf thistle but never on the marjoram which was growing in relative abundance.

I also found an ab: helice of the Clouded Yellow – a quite dished helice. The black markings on its upper wings were faded so just possibly it could have been a Pale Clouded Yellow. We shall never know. For a brief moment it was to be seen nectaring on the same dwarf thistle as a Silver Spotted Skipper. Damned if I was able to get a photo. There were many Brown Argus on the wing. Some had a faint white discal spot but the proportion was low possibly only two out of fifty. And then the spotting was certainly not pronounced.

 

 25th August 2002: Baildon Moor, West Yorks

 Though the day was cool and overcast until 4 30 I did succeed in establishing something. For a start we found no Northern Eggar caterpillars which are what one would expect having seen four Northern Eggar moths in mid July. Need to check next May if there are any caterpillars of any size next year. Could the Northern Eggar hybridise with the Oak Eggar?

 Finally saw the Purple Hairstreak close to the entrance of Saltaire Road adjacent to the abandoned quarries. The hairstreak was resting on oak when suddenly warmed by the sun it flew down on to the bracken. Here it hopped from frond to frond like something drunk and disoriented. It never rested for one second and fidgeted constantly as if confused. It was a male not ragged but definitely faded having a near brown appearance. Finally it flew off into an oak and was quickly joined by another. Standing on the rocky edge of Shipley Glen we saw another probably a male hairstreak. Again it was rather faded. Around 5 50 whilst phoning Susan Stead outside the Old Glen House I noticed another Purple Hairstreak. It settled on a brown thistle and then flew off before I had a chance to even get my camera out of the bag. I am amazed how Bradford naturalists are still unable to see them.

 Towards the end of the season the Purple Hairstreak does come to earth though not to nectar. Rather I think their energy begins to fail and they can no longer rise as high into the canopy as they once did.

 

27th August 2002: Odsal Woods, Bradford, West Yorks

Clearly the season is over and we only saw three Purple Hairstreaks. I had fully expected to see twenty or more. Admittedly dished but with two or three still in pristine condition. So I was disappointed. Also the oak mildew had run riot and only a few trees were unaffected.

Yesterday at Skipton, David's sighting of a Purple Hairstreak was characterised by that unmistakeable shimmering which shows they must still be at the height of the emergence there. Susan rang to say she had seen her first Purple Hairstreak in the Prince of Wales Park and was very excited. John Canavan had also seen them in Baildon and had followed our instructions to the letter on how to view them. All this was welcome news as I had begun to fear we were about to be treated as impostors. This feeling was not helped by Marianela's letter in which she showed herself as a concealed apologist for the TMO (Tenants Management Organisation).

 In Raw Nook we saw around five male Common Blues and one remarkable blue female. Apart from a few on the hind wings the orange lunules had all but vanished. In their place a dark margin was to be seen similar to what can be found in the Chalk Hill Blue. The overall colour was closer to the male Common Blue especially those that have just emerged and have a dark hue to their scales. This is an iridescent effect because it all depends on the viewing angle. There was one Small Copper patrolling a small area of ground. Took photos as it was feeding on heather.

 

28th August 2002: Brockadale, Pontefract, West Yorks

 An ideal day, warm with hazy sunshine. All the Brown Argus opened their wings which helped in identifying the white spot. But in fact out of the forty or so we saw only two possessed any discal white spotting. Clearly the ratio has changed from last year's second generation where it was in the region from 1 to 8. It was also very different from this year's first generation where spotting was very high – probably about 10 to 1. The butterfly was difficult to photograph – provided that it was not spooked by patrolling males.

 We may even have photographed a great rarity. 'Experts' will be hard put to say otherwise or seek, in anyway, to disclaim it. We like to think of it as a first not only in butterfly photography but especially for this particular species where there is little apparent difference between male and female. In fact it is a rarity amongst varieties, a gynandromorph of the ab: albunnalata. If we are right it is a spectacular coup though not very spectacular in itself to the unpractised eye. I was first aware of something unusual when from a distance of three feet I noticed that only one upper wing carried the white discal spotting. On peering through my 21 mm extension ring I saw there was a white spot on the left upper wing but it was fainter and less pronounced. Having taken a number of photos it flew off landing on a grass stalk closing its wings though not enough for the right side to entirely cover the left. It appeared to be somewhat deformed though both David and I noted it neither of us commented upon it. Eventually it opened its wings and flattened out to soak up the sun. I noticed the bottom left wing was somewhat smaller than the right. And then in a flash it dawned on me: "it's a gynandromorph" I cried out.

 We must have taken some forty photos between us so let's hope some do come out. We debated whether to capture it or not but decided not to. The scientific community would argue in these circumstances it is alright to kill and maybe because we weren't prepared to, our claim will be dismissed. But if I had done so I personally would have died a little inside. Besides what more could a dead insect have proved? That anatomically (thorax, genitalia etc) were also hermaphroditic, but supposing that anatomically it was single sex either completely male or female does that necessarily discount that it is a gynandromorph? Though a gynandromorph must possess the XY chromosome does it have to do so in equal measure? Indeed is this ever possible? Are not the difference in wing shape, size and markings sufficient in themselves?

 Hermaphrodites cannot be common amongst butterflies. If so there would be photos of sexually dimorphic species like Brimstones, Purple Hairstreaks, Brown Hairstreaks, Hedge Browns and so on. In fact I don't know of one. That we were fortunate enough to notice it came about because we were looking for the white discal spot. Everything subsequently followed from that consequence. Witnessed an attack by a garden spider (diadema) on a Brown Argus. Two of them were chasing each other but unfortunately one became entangled in a spider's web. The female instantly shot down the flower and infected with venom the Brown Argus before we could release it. I managed to get photos of the sequence. The butterfly was parcelled up and left while the female spider retreated to a flower head, but after awhile she would return to suck out the juices from the body. Possibly it took time for the digestive enzymes to work.

 Met a skilled general labourer who was busy repairing one of the gates on the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve. He had a wide knowledge of nature and was rather contemptuous of all the official nature bodies. They were his bosses and reacted to them as any worker would. He had for instance found some great crested newts whilst repairing a wall. The work on the wall was immediately stopped which, as it is all now subcontracted work, would affect his wages at the end of the day. He was told to apply for a license which would allow him to remove the newts. When he received the license he found it was a license to kill them! He reacted to this with typical incredulity, almost as if to say: "What else could you expect from management". He now rarely consults the YWT because he fears they will automatically be obstructionist – so just goes ahead. He also had a worker's contempt for the professionals of natural history including Bill Smyllie, the world's expert on the Brown Argus. He was quick to use the word "envy" to describe their responses if by chance one had discovered, or caught sight of, something rare. In his opinion professional people were not good observers because they were not assiduous enough, never arriving at a site before 10 and leaving 3 30 on the dot. How true I thought! The rituals of middle class life where one must be home for tea stultifies the modern naturalists. How much this age is in need of nature fanatics who would be on the prowl at all hours scornful of bourgeois conventions, even if they were unable to say so in so many words. And how much modern technology, particularly the car, has contributed to this deadening tendency. Not only suburban living but nature itself becomes increasingly circumscribed by empty ritual based on the house, marriage and the family.

 

29th August 2002: Skipton, North Yorks

 Efforts finally rewarded. Purple Hairstreaks are in Skipton Castle Woods. However, it is impossible to say how many. I must have spent at least two and a half hours looking at the same tree before I saw the unmistakeable jinking flight. At the same time another took off and soared up into the adjacent oak. It looked as if they may well have just parted company after mating. Possibly the one I saw was a female and had instantly set out in search of suitable egg laying locations while the male had gone off on a post nuptial flight.

 Looking for Purple Hairstreaks in Bradford was not easy and in Wharfedale it was even more difficult but in Skipton it was all but impossible in terms of the demands it made on us. The day was not perfect but by Skipton standards about as good as it gets. Possibly for that reason the Purple Hairstreak has evolved a unique mode of behaviour. Instead of flying it spends the majority of its life walking - doing the hairstreak crawl - rather than hairstreak shimmering. Maybe in these regions it is a virtually flightless butterfly which requires infinite patience if one is ever to catch the merest glimpse of the insect. It is possible the insect has been in Skipton Woods for some time having in that period evolved this unusual even unique form of behaviour. Because they are so secretive they could have been overlooked for a century or more. As a casual visitor the chances of getting close enough to them to photograph is remote.

 The most favourable spot is just above Ellerbeck in Skipton Castle Woods. But David did find one on the fringes of the golf course which could be considered an extension of the woods in spite of the intervening roadway which is heavily used by traffic. I also think they are in the graveyard in Skipton on the Grassington Road. The specialised art of seeing the Purple Hairstreak in West/South Yorks requires even more skill and a flash lasting a micro second can be enough to betray their presence. All one has to do then is wait and wait and hope the weather holds out. In the woods I kept getting these hints of a flash and than at last the real thing materialised. I couldn't help but think my receptivity was beginning to resemble that of the North American plains Indians and their acute sensitivity to nature which has now been lost. It is a good feeling to be that responsive and gives an indication of how reduced our bodily senses are even though in my case it has only involved one fairly insignificant insect.

 The next step is Grassington, Settle, Dent Head, Clapham. There is no point in returning to Skipton. Any further sightings must be left to others but I doubt if anyone else will ever see them. One further remark: the butterflies appeared to be all but in pristine condition contrasting markedly with the dished and dying specimens in lower Airedale and Wharfedale and the Bradford area. This means their emergence must have been delayed by at least two weeks. There was a feeling of expectation throughout the day as if these furtive insects were playing hide and seek but more hidden than found.
1st September 2002: Bolton Abbey Wood, Wharfedale, West Yorks

 On this spectacularly warm and sunny day it makes some sense to call Bolton Abbey Wood, Bolton Abbey Beach. 43 years ago to the day we walked here with my eldest brother Doug and his wife, Yvonne our hearts were as heavy as lead. On the morrow we were to attend Ripon Grammar School and we had a foreboding of the horror to come.

 Now we were searching for the Purple Hairstreak, a butterfly we then only knew by name. In those intervening 40 years there has been an enormous increase in the commodification of leisure as well as the erosion of workers' rights. Those of our age 43 years ago now face a future of work until you drop or, as a tag with a difference put it: Birth/Work/Death. The fact that we were looking for the Purple Hairstreak in these remote climes is not unrelated to the two former observations which adds up to an intensification of commodification.

 However we did not find the Purple Hairstreak. I was not expecting too. It was the first of September and the hairstreaks I had seen in Wharfedale some three weeks ago were already dished. But there could be colony here and if not, there most likely will be presently. However, it is unlikely the butterfly arrived at Skipton from Wharfedale. Though there were many magnificent oaks in Bolton Abbey Woods they were all but absent between Bolton Abbey and Skipton.

 

4th September 2002: Raw Nook, Low Moor, Bradford

 The second emergence of Common Blues is infinitely down on last year and the variation is much reduced. I saw only one definite female which was slightly varied; the discal spots on the hind wings were very pronounced. But it is possible I may have seen, and photographed a blue female which initially I took to be a male. As I peered through the lens there was a faint hint of lunules on the outer margins which may have been more pronounced but gradually were lost as the butterfly became much faded with time.

 This convergence of male and female may explain how I came to notice the butterfly. Observing two males chasing around I noticed the hue of one of them was slightly different. In fact the behaviour seemed to be of an erotic nature with one of the males seeking to mate with the other male. It seemed as though mating was about to take place as though one was seeking a conjugal response from the other. The larger male lay on its side briefly as if feigning 'surrender' before becoming invited by the 'female' to mate. Was I witnessing homoerotic behaviour by two males which had arisen because the sexes were becoming confused?

 I also photographed a male because from a distance both upper and lower wings some millimetres in from the wing margin displayed a darkening. This colour is similar to certain shades of blue to be found on the blue female, the outer margins of lunules can be replaced by a dark band. However, this flashing such as one finds on the wing tips of other blue females suggests a white margin may be a possibility. In which case, at some point, visual convergence would be that much closer.

 

12th September 2002: Raw Nook, Bradford, West Yorks

Many males but no females. None of the males appeared all that dished probably having emerged in the last 5/6 days. I assumed the females must have been about the business of egg laying. Photographed a Ruddy Darter. Within three feet of each other – a flowering bramble, a lone dandelion, a comfrey plant in bloom. Pure coincidence or something else?

 

6th/7th April 2003: Prince of Wales Park, Eldwick, Bradford, West Yorks

We reckoned the maximum number of Green Hairstreak flying around the park was probably in the region of five or six. All that we saw appeared to be in good condition, which is surprising considering Susan Stead saw her first hairstreak on the 30th March. There have been a number of ground frosts since. Either they survive the frosts or they die and others emergethe following day as the sun warms the pupae. However, in the shade it is decidedly cool and maybe because they are less active the butterflies still appear pristine after a week

 Certainly the bilberry is more advanced than on Shibden Head or Ambler Thorn, which is surprising considering the park is on higher ground than either of the other two places. I think the butterfly does not emerge until at least some of the bilberry is in flower. Maybe even the bilberry flowers transmit chemical signals, which the fully formed butterfly in the pupa is receptive to. In the park there were also a number of queen bees, hover flies and their model – a lone wasp. On Shibden Head the hoverflies were out and a number of first generation winged aphids could be seen. The queen bees would nectar on the bilberry then forage amongst the leaves looking for a likely nesting site.

 Yesterday was warmer than today and consequently the one hairstreak we did see was settling fairly high on the bilberry. Today however the hairstreaks either perched on stalks of dead bracken no higher than nine inches from the ground or amongst the warm leaf litter. Our last sighting was around 3 pm. The slight difference in temperature between yesterday and today made no difference to the roosting time even though the hairstreaks were less active today than yesterday.

 Their behaviour on both days appeared not to be governed by any territorial imperatives. Rather it was governed by a search for warmth. Presumably they were all males that were on the wing but they were too few in number to want to compete or demarcate territory.

 

8th April 2003: Otley Chevin, West Yorks

 A cloudless day but a cold one: Despite spending several hours on the 'big field' we did not see one Green Hairstreak. The bilberry florets were just to say coming out but then only here and there. It was at the same stage as on Shibden Head and Ambler Thorn. However the hawthorn was much more advanced than in the park in Eldwick and the gorse was almost in full bloom. The hair moss had begun to grow unlike in the Prince of Wales Park. I only saw one Peacock but espied a Comma and a Common Heath and David said he had seen two others further up the slope. The Green Hairstreaks cannot be long in emerging.

 

9th April 2003: Prince of Wales Park, Eldwick, West Yorks

 Intermittent sunshine but very cold. We arrived at the park around 1 30. During the entire time we were there we did not see one Peacock or Small Tortoiseshell. The sky almost cleared around 3 or around 3 15. We saw one and only one Green Hairstreak. On the previous two days the hairstreaks had ceased to fly by 3. It was an ab: caecus, the same, I suspect as we had seen on the previous two days. However it proved the harsh frosts of the last four nights (last night's being particularly harsh) had not killed off the butterflies completely. As it is not programmed to hibernate like Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks it must be quite hardy after all and able to withstand frosts of 5 degrees.

 The hairstreaks flitted around the stalks of dead bracken and at one point landed on a withered frond of bracken. It never once went on the dead heather and I don't recall ever seeing one do so. In the sunshine it proved a difficult insect to follow against the background of stalks and decaying bracken; in fact far more difficult than when flying across a background of bilberry. Why? Was it simply an effect of sunlight? Or were perceptual elements at work here with the brown of the upper wings almost cancelling out the green undersides. Is it possible the more green there is the easier it is to see the green?

 But by 3 45 pm the insect had ceased to fly. In all we felt it had been a worthwhile day which seemed so unpromising to begin with. Met Susan Stead. She is hostile to landscape architects. As she said "you just can't get through to them". Seems to be an advocate of nature taking its course. We are in need of a provocative conservation pamphlet.

 

April 13th 2003: Prince of Wales Park, Eldwick, Bradford, West York

 The weather was forecast to cloud in so we left early for the park. However it stayed warm all day with intervals of hazy sunshine and the Green Hairstreak population visibly increased whilst we were there. Their behaviour has started to become almost normal but not quite – characterised by a half-hearted territorialism with one insect returning to the same area repeatedly. However it was only the semblance of a patrol and only once did I witness a male frenetically seeing off a competitor.

 However individual butterflies were flying for much longer intervals. The torpor of the last few days is finished and all of the butterflies could only be approached with care otherwise they would buzz off instantly. Consequently they were much harder to photograph than they had been over the last five days. Like on the Chevin last year the butterflies would only ever perch on the evergreen spruce. I would have thought they might have gone onto a small larch that was beginning to leaf but their preference was for the tall conifers. One flew some 45 feet up in the air and landed two thirds of the way up a spruce. I looked at where I believed it was resting and some ten minutes later it flew off. This could not by any stretch of the imagination be called perching mode. At that height any territory the butterfly had demarcated would only be a hazy blur on which only the largest objects would be visible.

 The ab: caecus appears to be the dominant form though there were 'typical' forms with a couple of less pronounced ab: punctata forms with the semi-circle barely visible on the upper wing especially. Jenny (Susan Stead's friend) by chance happened to see a female Emperor moth. It was on the bilberry and our excited presence disturbed it and it flew off in an agitated manner resting barely a second on bilberry sprays. Eventually it came to rest a bit out of the sun where it remained but enabling me to photograph it. The Emperor has not been seen in the Prince of Wales Park before.

 

May 26th 2003: Rothwell Country Park and Skelton Grange, Leeds

 The search for the Dingy Skipper proved a fruitless one. Rothwell Country Park was landscaped rather better than I had come to imagine. In fact much of the substrate had been left merely moulded into pathways. Stones had been laid for irrigation purposes and fine rather than coarse grass had been sown to permit plants like trefoil, clover, and knapweed and so on to thrive. In fact there was an abundance of trefoil and the terrain as a whole was perfect for the Dingy Skipper. When they do finally arrive colonisation of the entire site would I think proceed rapidly? I saw a number of Latticed Heaths moths and there was a sizable colony of Walls.

 Despite the sensitive landscaping the 'down and dirty' nature at Skeleton Grange power station was far more diverse and much more exciting because it was less planned. I took a photo of a marsh thistle sprouting from a water stopcock amidst an otherwise parched area of concrete covered with trefoil on the margins. Such an unusual combination would not have been permitted on the nearby Rothwell Country Park. Beside it would have been judged dangerous and filled in. One could actually see the various stages of natures' takeover from moss on the concrete and pavements to trefoil, buddleia, birch, dog daisies, teasel, ragwort, dandelion etc, etc.

 There were more Common Blues (all males) and Cinnabars than in Rothwell Country Park. There was also a greater variety of bird life like the common tern, oystercatcher and lapwing. I walked across what was left of the acres of foundations; angry lapwings were wheeling about me anxious that I should not find their chicks in these industrial furrows left by dereliction. Wherever I looked there was far more to capture the eye and seize the imagination than in Rothwell Country Park: an abandoned skip, railway lines that appeared from nowhere and ended just as abruptly, huge concrete blocks with rusting metal roots sticking out of them, a rusting steel gate opening onto a flat, empty expanse of rubble that was slowly being invaded by plant life. It was such a lonely, lovely experience. Apart from myself, it was deserted and I was carried back to my childhood when I would wander alone onto Aycliffe Trading Estate and in the sidings around Heighington Station in Co Durham.

 

June 5th 2003: Banstead Downs, near Sutton, Surrey

 Surprised to find a Green Hairstreak still flying. As the gorse was going back they appear to have opted to nectar on the kidney vetch. I was disappointed not to get a photo of one nectaring on kidney vetch. I would then have had a range of pictures from very early to late in the season. Obviously, they were on their last legs but they are still capable of prolonged arial combats. However, a couple were still in quite remarkable condition. The Small Blue was to be seen nectaring on the kidney vetch practically wherever it was to be found. The population does seem to be expanding yet they do have a favoured spot and that is in the dell – a very sheltered spot – at the centre of the main Green Hairstreak colony. After some time I noticed they were nectaring on a patch of wild raspberry as were many bees. They would also rest on the leaves sometimes a couple of foot from the ground. Their buzzing behaviour was of short duration. They would face the sun's rays directly before opening their wings. Their wings would iridise slightly.

 The Butterfly Conservation officer had yet to see the Grizzled Skipper which he decided was 'worrying'. There were a number of Common Blue blue females averaging about 50% and one Brown Argus. The Small Blues were attracted to my shoulder bag; not just one but also several. One even crawled into an open pocket for some time where it could be observed 'feeding'. They must have been attracted to something in the material (a pvc weave). I noticed when I put my hands into the pockets there was a slight, dampish feel to them. None of this was possibly due to sweat residues. On Sunday the Small Blue was flying even in damp though warm overcast conditions. I watched one on a floret of kidney vetch. Though raining slightly, it even opened its wings flinching now and then as a raindrop hit the wings. Generally they aren't very active butterflies and stay quite close to one another. In fact I found three roosting in one spot though I doubt if will come out on a photograph I took of them.

 

26th June 2003: Fairmile Common, Oxshott, Surrey

 It was a perfect day for viewing Silver Studded Blues, warm, slightly overcast, muffled sunshine. And we weren't disappointed. I would estimate the colony has quadrupled since I last visited several years ago. At a rough guess at the height of the emergence there must be around one thousand and this was the height of the emergence give or take a couple of days. This was worrying since emergence this year appears to have been fast-forwarded. We even saw a couple of Hedge Browns and this was only June 27th. The full emergence of the Silver Studded Blue should be at least ten days away.

 A few observations: When we arrived at the common, males easily predominated; possibly the ratio was six to one. They were flying low over the crossed leaved heath and were difficult to approach. I noticed a mating pair a couple of foot off the ground on gorse. In fact it was the first of a number of mating pairs. I thought the couple had chosen the slightly elevated situation so as not to be molested. In fact come 4 30 pm many more males in particular would be joining the pair settling or roosting even higher up the gorse – so high that I could not stretch up to take a photo to give a sense of height. One even settled fairly high up on a birch tree. Possibly this is their typical roosting situation. Meanwhile on the ground females seemed to predominate. It was interesting how they chose to rest on dead bracken stems or on the ground where once their wings were closed they were almost undetectable; even when open the colour of their upper wings blended easily better with the bare earth than the males. I did not get the impression at this stage in the day they were egg laying.

 The males later in the day tended to roost or rest close to previously flowering stems of gorse still containing the greyish brown seedpods of the extremities. This in fact can easily be mistaken for a Silver Studded Blue with its wings closed. I hoped to get a photo of three roosting insects together. Closer examination revealed that one was a pod! The pod is covered in fine hairs and from a distance the texture is similar to the scaling of the wings and the 'down' of the abdomen. In addition the pod is speckled all over with fine dots breaking up the gooey, grey surface of the pod into adjacent rings like the silver studding on the underside of the blue's wing. Noticeably the butterflies do not tend to rest further down the flowering branch because there the pods have fallen to the ground and only the shrivelled light brown former petals are left.

 The butterfly does like plenty of sun and is most active in the sunshine. When the sky clouded over the butterfly liked to rest on the heather close to sheltering banks of gorse. Often several (mainly males) could be seen on one clump of heather. I was also surprised to find them resting on bramble leaves and nectaring on bramble flowers. In fact to the side of the helicopter-landing pad they chose a bramble thicket in preference to the crossed leaved heath. There was an abundance of wild evening primrose but I never saw one butterfly go anywhere near a single plant. I also, on one occasion, mistook a bramble flower for a Silver Studded Blue. The floret was in the shade of its petals and had turned a bluish grey rather than brilliant white once it was no longer reflecting the sun's rays. The antlers or stamens (at least the tips) gave the flower a two dimensional, mottled appearance which, for some moments, I temporarily took for the under sides of a Silver Studded Blue. In fact I had to move close to the flower to be sure.

 Thought once again that the wings of the butterfly often are an abstract of specific background characteristics rather than a faithful reflection of just one of these characteristics. This abstractness means it can move against several backgrounds and feel protected. Fairmile Common has been well managed. Gorse and silver birch have been felled and the cross-leaved heath encouraged to grow. However, the shelter gorse provides, though very invasive and in time would have destroyed this colony if left to take over, has been recognised. The Portsmouth Road must have severely damaged the colony when it was constructed which wasn't that long ago. At the other side of the road we only saw sporadic plants of crossed leaved heath – not enough to support a colony of Silver Studded Blue. Once the gorse is chopped down it grows by sending out a dense cushion of suckers before finally a wooded branch breaks through to resume a more typical growth pattern. It was most unusual and its thick, mossy shrub-like appearance gave the heath a most unusual aspect.

 

5th/6th July 2003: Leeds Liverpool Canal near Shipley, West Yorks

 Found two Ringlets in the field between the canal and the River Aire. It was an overcast day and I scuffed up both of them. However, I have not been able to find them closer to Shipley but there is nothing to stop them knocking at the factory gates of Shipley within a short space of time – maybe even next year. Shipley however is not an easy place to get round though nothing like the obstacle Leeds was. Found a sparrow hawk's nest between the River Aire and Otley Road.

 

8th July 2003: Denso Marston Nature Reserve on the banks of the Aire near Shipley

Looked around Bingley and then Keighley sewerage works for Ringlet. Obviously the latter will in time become a huge colony, possibly the biggest hereabouts. But for the moment Ringlets are absent. Moved onto Shipley water meadows. There we found a couple a couple of Ringlet and from there back to Denso Marston. Amazingly we found one fluttering around an artificial pond with a thick border of common reed. I did wonder if it was feeding on this plant but it seemed unlikely. However, the reserve is 'made' for the butterfly. But on our estimate it most likely will take from four to five years for the butterfly to get through Shipley.

However our greatest surprise was finding a Speckled Wood colony. So finally we had achieved our aim without ever intending to do so on this day. I first spotted it on the footpath following the River Aire. I thought it might be a moth and then realised its manner of flight excluded this. Besides it also had extraordinarily pale wings and for a brief, silly moment I thought it might be a White Admiral. I shouted to David to check on it and he suddenly cried out "it's a Speckled Wood". He chased it up a clearing and I followed disturbing another as I did so. We estimate we saw four in all. And this was around 4 30 in the afternoon. They appeared to be unusually pale; off-white rather than the more usual yellow colour on the spots. Of course they could all have been dished. However, they may be an actual variety. It would appear the Speckled Wood is following the River Aire just like the Ringlet and to a lesser extent the Gatekeeper. Obviously the wooded embankments are important in this respect. I phoned Susan Stead but the triviality of supper only served to stifle her enthusiasm: "Keep it short" she said.

 

11th July 2003: Woodhall Quarries, Fagley, Bradford, West Yorks

On the off chance went to the quarries. As the day was cool I decided to leave off visiting Ilkley until tomorrow. I was astonished to find Ringlets there: Many, many, many Ringlets. In fact I couldn't say how extensive the colony was as Ringlets were to be found in all the surrounding pathways and dells. I even found one close to the old railway bridge. This must have been around 4 30 on a windy, rather cool day. The varieties must number about 20% of the population with a graded series going from the ab: arete to the ab: caeca though not as high as the 80% at Ben Rhydding –shortly before the new arrivals coming up the River Wharfe. How long has the colony been here? For years – that's for sure. I would estimate the colony is over one thousand but it could well be double that. The butterflies are slightly paler lacking that dark fuscous colour of the new arrivals. Also, importantly the colony was past its best and most were quite faded even ragged. This would confirm my view that the varieties emerge earlier than the normal form. I would also think that the parent colony was Lindley Reservoir just like that of the Ben Rhydding colony.

There is also a Hedge Brown colony Found some Small Tortoiseshell caterpillar webs. They appeared to bed several nettle stalks into a continuous web. The stalks are eaten through to a fine filament. The caterpillar must find the sap nourishing. I also found on the leaves something that resembled aphid honeydew. It is possible the caterpillars exude it during this early stage. The colony seems to have a central knot with larvae heaped upon larvae. The caterpillars at the centre of this knot are unusually still and only those at the perimeter are active. When the sun is out there is an all round increase in activity. The caterpillars often twitch and throw both their front portions in a defiant gesture. Looked at close too it can be quite unnerving. Their little black heads shine like that of a centipede – or like a cobra about to strike. I noticed several in this posture on the edge of a nettle leaf almost as if waiting to strike some unseen prey. It certainly looked menacing and for a small bird a mere fraction of my size, many times more so.

 What do these writhing, gossamer shreds conjure up to small creatures? Something not of this earth. The webs sometimes are tent-like with holes in them similar to those that appear on a stretched plastic sheet. Caterpillars would go in and out of them. These tent-like structures are to be found at the heart of the colony just where all the caterpillars are to be found resting. The very young larvae form hibernacula out of two interwoven nettle leaves. They stay enclosed within this until at least a centimetre in size. They then cling onto the outside their massed presence giving the colony a threatening bulk – a twirling, gnarled, slimy, shiny, deformed excrescence of a creature. The following dream bears out one of my central ideas on entomology: I was not aware of it at the time and only later reflecting upon it I became aware. I was in a heaped-up crowd of protesters in Iran standing not shoulder to shoulder but somehow on top of each other. We were all hooded with a cowl drawn over our beards. I was afraid of being unmasked because it would become apparent at once I was a westerner and yet as an internationalist I wanted to be with the crowd. On reflection I realised my looking closely at the knot of Small Tortoiseshell larvae had shaped this image. It carried a human significance way beyond its mere form.

 

13th July 2003: Ilkley Moor, West Yorks

A fruitless search for the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary but at least I now know where to look and where not to. The conifer plantation was an eerie nightmare of a place. There was no varied plant life to speak of, not even a marsh thistle, though much of the ground was boggy. Where I climbed the wall enclosing the plantation there were marsh violets. But there was no nectar sources of any kind – the occasional lump of heather had yet to flower. It was truly an awful place.

Crossing the moor I rested awhile and was amazed to find a full-grown Emperor caterpillar marching with speed across the surface of a stone. I was to find several more on the pathway. On nearing the shooting butt I placed obstacles in its way. Sometimes it would climb over the obstacles or seek to go around them. At these moments it was necessarily deflected from its original path. However, it would shortly resume its original direction staying in roughly the same distance from the edge of the path. Sometimes in its haste it would roll over and form a semi-circle, its claspers in the air. However, it would rapidly resume its course once back on its feet. I placed a sprig of heather in its way but it passed straight through it oblivious of the fact that it would eventually pupate in just such a spray. Why did it feel a need to go to ground? Is it the remains of an atavistic instinct given that many moths do pupate in underground chambers? Why all the haste and urgency that was almost like a migrating bird that has to fly in one direction and one direction only? 

 

14th July 2003: Dent Head/Rise Hill, High Pennines, North Yorks

What a slog to reach the site and we should have walked directly along the railway track from Dent station to Dent tunnel. The first thing I saw was a Ringlet – a very dished Ringlet. I was to see several more. The three I did examine were normal specimens but the colony appeared to be notably lighter in colour. How did it get here? There were also a couple of Meadow Browns – again quite surprising. However, all that remained of the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary were a few ragged stragglers and to even attempt to photograph on these slopes of large rocks covered in grasses through which a boggy stream ran was quite out of the question. Possibly the colony is quite extensive and maybe photographs above Steep Rise Tunnel are possible in the evening. There was much wild strawberry in evidence so is this a possible Grizzled Skipper site? Met a birder on Dent station. He despised naturalist organisations; the RSPB in particular he thought had "no conception of ecology". What he really meant was the inter-linked chain of nature with humam beings as the chief link. Even the insect world was in his opinion being destroyed by modern farming methods. The insects were needed to fertilise the flowers and without either there was no bird life.

 I told him the Yorkshire branch of Butterfly Conservation were very active. "Have they got a lot of guns?" he said. There was something child-like and intense about him. He asked Barbara if I was "obsessed". When she said "yes" he was impressed. He thought trains were the transport of the future. Without ever saying so explicitly he thought the infrastructure of life – insects – were declining to the point where dung in Lincolnshire no longer decomposed when left in the wild remaining there for weeks. (A week later a report came out – a credible report – on the decline of house sparrows which attributed their decline in the crucial second and third brood to a decrease of insects). He noticed the spoil heaps left over from the digging out of Blea Moor Tunnel. He also expressed his concern over the number of navvies who would have died constructing the Settle/Carlisle railway. In other words this choice of terminology – ecology – was simply an extension of the 'mode of production'.

 

19th July 2003: Ashstead Common, Surrey 

"Anyone here seen Kelly"

Disappointed not to find any White Admirals in Rushett Lane. I had even mentally guaranteed to Jenny that she would be 99% certain of seeing them here. Perhaps it was too warm for them in the direct rays of the sun so we moved onto the forest. Here we did see several Purple Emperors. In fact they were more interspersed than I have ever seen them one even flying around an oak on the fringes of the wood. As it was quite windy I think they were disinclined to fly as they like to surf the air currents. Returning to Rushett Lane even though the sun had gone in we did see several White Admirals. I hope the photographs come out as I wished to portray them in resting positions on the leaves. I want a contrast of dark and light – a dark background with a shaft of sunlight illuminating part of a leaf – for I believe this is how their upper side wings function as a protective device as they are restricted to woodland and like the sun they make play of light and shade.

 Saw an ab: arete Ringlet. Should study this population more carefully for further examples.

 

27th July 2003, Scrubs Lane, West London

 Large Skipper with white markings. Literally more brambles than I have ever seen. Very few white flowers. The Hedge Browns appeared past their best. Would I be wrong in thinking the number of Hedge Browns and Meadow Browns are well down on previous years?

 

30th July 2003: Chessington Woods, Surrey

The White Admiral has a gentle, gliding flight, then a short flap – how like the Purple Emperor. The Purple Hairstreaks could be seen at the end of Rushett Lane as it turned at right angles into the Leatherhead Road. Further down the lane and I believe the Speckled Wood was behaving territorially pushing the butterfly towards the periphery of the wood.

 

1st August 2003: Odsal Woods, Bradford, West Yorks

Though the Purple Hairstreak was here in relative abundance I felt it was not yet at the height of the emergence. Toward the late afternoon they did descend somewhat but never went anywhere near nectar sources like bramble or the rosebay willow herb. One dived onto a patch of nettles around 4 45 pm and stayed there for about a minute. This was the lowest they ever descended. They appeared to prefer sheltered copses but as the shadows lengthened in the copse there was even less incentive to come down to the flowers. Looked for sign of aphids but could see none. Their perambulatory dexterity may be related to finding a single aphid exuding heavy dew and as they fly but little, perhaps they do not require a constant intake of sugar/carbohydrate and walking consumes less fuel? The aphids are more likely to concentrate on the extremity of twigs and on new leaves because it is easier to grow through the sap.

 

3rd August 2003: Storrs Hill, Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, West Yorks

Hyperbole perhaps but I believe I have discovered the biggest colony of Grayling in Yorkshire – certainly in West and South Yorks. Arrived at Storrs Hill around 10.15am alighting at Sowood Avenue. I cut across the fields, the same fields and maybe even the same path as I did 45 years ago. I noticed a Hedge Brown and hailed it saying, "You were not here the last time I was here" and then I noticed a Grayling – only the second butterfly of the day. Instantly I became alive. I had to have proof that I had seen the Grayling.

I slithered down the slope and found another Grayling nectaring on the scabious also Painted Ladies, Small Tortoiseshells and a couple of Small Coppers and Walls. "What a rich site" I thought even as long ago as the mid 1950s. Just what is it that makes the site so attractive to butterflies? At first glance it is very unprepossessing but undoubtedly it does possess some unknown quality. There were a number of bikers keeping the ground bare – perhaps too bare as regards the Common Blue. And then onto Healey Mills. On the way down I found a Vapourer moth on the roadside. The lights of the marshalling yards must still act as an attractant. I found my first Grayling and I was hugely delighted. But I needed to see more moving off in the Dewsbury direction. Retracing my steps I noticed one, then two, then several. For the moment it appears the hub of the colony is around Horbury Bridge. However, it is undoubtedly present everywhere in the yards. It seems to prefer the most close-cropped areas and tends to shun the areas where carr woodland is beginning to invade. That is the Grayling prefers the working area of the marshalling yards.

 It was a delight to see them settling on the ballast, railway sleepers and even on the railway lines. Nobody has ever taken a photo of them in a railway siding before and I need to get in the maximum amount of background. To see them flying over the stationary rolling stock was something else. When they close their wings and the top wing is concealed behind the under wing the Grayling is practically undetectable, indeed to take our eyes away for a couple of seconds when it is resting on ballast is to risk losing sight of it completely. When approached it can suddenly lift its upper wing and reveal an eyespot almost as if in irritation like the raising of an eyebrow because it undoubtedly gives the impression of a frown. Why does it need to bask so persistently? Does it need to constantly raise its body temperature before flying which then lowers it causing the butterfly to feel uncomfortable? On a number of occasions the butterfly would circle around me, investigating me. No other butterfly has done this quite so obviously. One even landed on my shoe another on my plastic backpack. There is some substance on the backpack that attracts butterflies (e.g. the Small Blue). It would be more understandable if it was made from natural fibre but this was man-made plastic fibre weave.

 

5th August 2003: Scar Close near Ingleborough, North Yorks

It was clearly the end of the season for the Dark Green Fritillary. Most were practically gossamer threads but I managed to photograph one more or less intact fritillary. There seemed to be more in the reserve possibly females laying their eggs. However they did start to nectar around 4 30. It was a very hot, cloudless day. In fact I remarked to someone on Ribblehead Station how very like the French Midi the hills looked in the early evening sunshine. I was glad I never took Jenny after all. In my present mood I would have felt it was less an act of discovery more the strain of having to perform and desperately hoping nature would perform in over plus.

 

6th August 2003: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, West Yorks

 Returned to view the Grayling. Roy Bedford is right it is the tail end of the emergence and in five or six day's time it will be all over. I am beginning to get some idea of their environmental preference. They do not like the encroaching carr woodland of silver birch. It will need to be periodically cut back. However, they seem to shun the completely bare ballast - i.e. the maintained, operating tracks. The ideal habitat is bare earth with sparse grass and a few flowers. One danced around the st john's wort on a flower to maybe nectar. However, it did not do so. In fact it settled on a thistle but did not nectar – which was rather surprising. The Graylings on Storrs Hill were certainly nectaring but none in the marshalling yards ever did from what I could see. They do like warmth. Some of the surfaces they landed on were burning hot, almost too hot even for my hand. Some chose to stay out of the sun basking in the shadows instead, but even so liked to stay in the full sun. I started to time the butterflies resting to see how long they stayed in one spot. However, I think my presence disturbed them and my peering too closely at them caused them to shift their positions. It would be interesting to see if they regularly stay in the same positions ten minutes or longer. Was the Grayling a butterfly that irradiated out from North Africa finding a unique means of raising and maintaining a high body temperature?

 

17th August 2003: Ranmore Common, Dorking, Surrey

Denbies Hillside was burnt to a frazzle. There were more Adonis Blues on the bank sides of the coach road path at the bottom of the hillside simply because that is where the nectar sources were. The florets of field scabious were almost dwarf-like in comparison to those by the side of the path and which in any case were smaller than usual. The marjoram had done flowering and looked shrivelled by the heat. The wild parsnip was ok but no butterfly seemed at all attracted to it certainly neither the Adonis Blue or Chalk Hill Blue or the Silver Spotted Skipper.It appears to be a very good year for the Silver Spotted Skipper. In fact they were evenly distributed across Denbies Hillside. Usually they are to be found in pockets. They also liked to bask on the path – hardly for warmth for it was warm enough already. I had never observed them doing this before. Nature always frustrates one's expectations. Seeing there were so many by the sides of the path I was convinced the Silver Spotted Skipper must be teeming on the hillside. I was to be very disappointed. The trick however is to turn one's disappointment into an educational experience. Nature always has a unique lesson to teach never to be exactly replicated. Saw one Clouded Yellow, a Humming Bird Hawk moth and a Hornet Clearwing.

 

24th August 2003: Boston Spa and Thorpe Arch in West Yorks

Not a sign of the Brown Argus and it is unlikely there ever will be. This was Private Property nature: private car parks, no cycling, and no riding notices. And least of all did it welcome walkers. I felt the eyes of the village were upon me as I walked through Thorpe Arch. In fact I did not pass one other pedestrian. But I did feel that I was being looked at and all my movements monitored. When I stopped in front of a house to examine the magnesium limestone façade I could sense hands about to reach for the phone to call the police. People in cars would give me the once over as they passed. In this deserted village of sky-high property prices I was an object of suspicion.

 Little of the magnesium limestone was in evidence. There was a cliff face similar to the one in nearby Knaresborough but rather smaller. However the only means of access was along a private road. Modern houses had been constructed close to the cliff face totally destroying the feature. On the roadside I found some "travellers joy" clearly at the limits of its range. Noticeably it was on the roadside and not on what was left of the exposed cliff face. Only horticultural artificialities were allowed to bloom here. There were no Asian faces or black faces and none of the flora and fauna we have come to associate with limestone. It was dead the whole place was dead and under one of the arches of the limestone road bridge crossing the River Wharfe someone had sprayed "crew" – that was all. Had they put "Boston Spa Crew" it would have been laughable.

 I looked at the faces I past. They were tight and mean. Money was their god. I was beneath contempt and they did not have the grace to at least try and conceal it. I doubt if there was even a supermarket because like in the Hamptons (in New England) there would have been opposition to it. Typically apart from a small Costcutter the shops were boutiques selling fashion and design, drapes and dreams. I noticed there had been attempts to render over the eroding limestone. In Wentbridge I noticed some of the old sand and cement had been hacked off to expose the original limestone. This back to basics is also an aspect of conservation – and rising property prices. It should signify a greater sensitivity to nature but in practise it meant the opposite.

 

27th August 2003: Shipley Station Meadow, West Yorks

Almost certainly found a Brown Argus on the meadow. It was very dished. Susan had also seen the Brown Argus there but had mistaken them for small, typical, Common Blue females. She realised there was something odd both in the manner of feeding – on rosebay willow herb which the Common Blue does not touch as a rule – and the fact they were significantly smaller and their habit of seeing off Common Blue males which was, she thought, unusual behaviour for a Common Blue female. If true this is indeed an amazing colony.

 

28th August 2003: The same

 Is it or is it not an agestis? We found a specimen resting on rosebay willow herb in Shipley Station Meadow we were convinced was an agestis. Not a trace of blue on the underside (at least while in the shadows).

 

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